March 2017 Issue
March 02, 2017

Sneakers and sincerity raise big bucks to fight cancer

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
From left: Taking part in the Real Men wear Pink initiative are, from left, Jeff Bastable, Laurence Segal, Sheriff Gene Conway, Brian Bartlett, Rick Roberts, Dan Hartnett and Chris Colabello.
Caption: From left: Taking part in the Real Men wear Pink initiative are, from left, Jeff Bastable, Laurence Segal, Sheriff Gene Conway, Brian Bartlett, Rick Roberts, Dan Hartnett and Chris Colabello.

The 2016 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks to support the American Cancer Society's cancer research and patient support programs once again received a big boost from NYSUT members.

More than a fistful of dollars was raised by NYSUT's Real Men Wear Pink. The group collected nearly $12,000 in donations toward the grand total of $884,509 raised by NYSUT members who painted their towns pink last fall.

NYSUT is a flagship sponsor of the New York State walks, and union members have raised $13.3 million with sneakers and sincerity since NYSUT began sponsoring the walks statewide in 2002.

"All of the real men in Syracuse wore pink neckties provided by ACS throughout October. It's still one of my favorite ties," said Chris Colabello, NYSUT regional staff director in Syracuse. The ties helped raise awareness and attract donations.

Twenty walks were hosted in New York State. Colabello walked in Syracuse with NYSUT members from dozens of unions representing teachers and School-Related Professionals. These Central New York locals also raised nearly $30,000 at the NYSUT Syracuse/Utica fall leadership conference.

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees the union's Making Strides campaign, walked in Albany alongside Maria Pecheco, Mohonasen Teachers Association president, and Sonia Basko, NYSUT staff member who helped promote the ACS/ NYSUT campaign with plans to expand the partnership. They donned pink boas and headbands.

"We were like three sisters from a different mother," said Fortino. Within a week, Basko was in the hospital for cancer treatment "and I never saw her again," she said sadly. Basko died in December.

ACS helps individuals with cancer with information and by raising money for lodging, rides, mastectomy products, wigs, treatment options and support systems. The organization also funds the work of scientists at different institutions, including SUNY, and its own staff of scientists.

Fortino, a former teacher and director of the Teacher Center in New York City, said her 2016 walk was "really, really personal." She walked in honor of Sandy Feldman, former president of the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers who died from breast cancer in 2004; and two friends, both teachers and UFT members, who died from cancer: Bea Carson and Rita Korashan. Fortino walked for years in Central Park in Manhattan, and then in Albany.

"I like the excitement of gathering early in the morning. We're kind of strangers, but by the end of the walk — the energy! We're all one," Fortino said.

For many walkers, the journey is always personal — to support a friend or family member trying to cope with the real fears and prolonged treatments cancer can bring.

"I love looking across the sea of pink that is our walk day! There is so much energy and enthusiasm from the massive crowds that turn out to walk together. Our Making Strides shirts are the most common pink attire, but I personally love to see the unique shirts that families and groups come up with to celebrate survivors and remember loved ones lost," said Lillian Jones, ACS executive director for greater New York and staff liaison with NYSUT.

"At most of our walk sites, our NYSUT teams are by far the largest teams! We were also thrilled to welcome the many NYSUT men who joined our new Real Men Wear Pink initiative across the state," Jones said.

Where we walked

Teams of NYSUT members were represented in every Making Strides walk held last year across the state:
Manhattan — 25 teams
Brooklyn — 79 teams
Queens — 101 teams
Bronx — 62 teams
Staten Island — 53 teams
Long Island, Nassau — 89 teams
Long Island, Suffolk — 48 teams
Jones Beach, UFT — 15 teams
Westchester — 54 teams
Hudson Valley — 53 teams
Albany — 121 teams
Binghamton — 3 teams
Utica — 11 teams
Syracuse — 25 teams
Rochester — 49 teams
Buffalo — 45 teams
Queensbury — 1 team
Jamestown — 15 teams

For more information about the American Cancer Society, visit